Comedian Ross Noble: ‘I’m in my own little bubble, the whole TV thing is kind of irrelevant to me’
Writer and comedienne Gráinne Maguire spoke to fellow comic Ross Noble about his stand-up jubilee, the changing face of comedy and why he’s not chasing television.
With all the talk about the imminent collapse of the comedy bubble, Ross Noble, who is currently in the midst of a mammoth nationwide tour, seems to be doing fine. But then again the 36-year-old is celebrating his own comedy jubilee after 21 years as a stand up.
“When I got into it, there was no money. It was this tiny niche thing, at best you would get a presenting job. When I started Mark Lamarr, who was an amazing life stand-up, was presenting The Word. You’d think the best you could do was probably get a sitcom or chat show or a presenting gig. I just absolutely loved doing stand-up, it was just what I wanted to do.”
“If I was a teenager now, I think I’d be really excited about what was going on in comedy now. The big difference to when I started is you couldn’t just go on YouTube and watch anything from around the world. There used to be a bookshop in London that sold comedy books and I had to go down and buy comedy books there. There’s a lot more things out there now, which is good in one sense but it’s also daunting. How do you find your own voice when there’s so much stuff out there?”
“There’s a danger, like when pop bands come along and they just sound like everyone else, that the real stuff – that’s a bit different – will get a bit lost, and more experimental stuff gets pushed aside for stuff that is more instant and commercially viable.”
“TV and life comedy are so far apart now. When Live at the Apollo first started, I did the very first series. There was one act and we each got to do 40 minute set, that was unheard of, you hadn’t seen acts doing sets for that long before. Now, there are three acts and the times keep being shortened down.”
Noble thinks you can compare how television treats life comedy to what happened to music.
“It used to be that you put out a record, you recorded a single and then you released millions of copies and you ended up on something like Top of The Pops. That’s where the band and record companies made their money from, so it was in the music industry’s interest to have shows like that on. Then people stopped buying records, it was full of boy bands, it wasn’t relevant to the way that people consumed their music. People on Later… with Jools Holland, people playing album tracks that are more eclectic late night things that was still relevant. Comedy will go like that too. Eventually, it will get the point where you’ll get a whole channel; all of it stand-up from start to finish, because everything will become so fragmented.”
After all that time honing his craft on the live circuit, clocking up TV appearances is not something he seems very interested in.
“I’m in my own little bubble. I go out there, I do my thing, the whole TV thing is kind of irrelevant to me. The people with real longevity, like Billy Connolly, don’t pop up on every TV show; he’s not chasing the telly. That’s the problems with a lot of acts desperate to make a name for themselves in comedy, people are just going to end up sick of them. They’re on everything and telly is just going to chew them up and spit them out the other end. As soon as Michael McIntyre stops getting the high profile TV stuff he’s going to struggle to sell all these massive big arenas, it can’t last forever”
For anybody who equates mass popularity with lasting comedy greatness, Noble offers a sobering reminder from recent showbiz history.
“In the Seventies and Eighties, the biggest acts in comedy were Cannon and Ball. They were so big that when they played Blackpool people would queue from pier to pier to get a ticket. They even had their own movie. You could not have got a bigger act than them. I saw them a couple of years ago and they were playing to four hundred people on a variety bill.”
Instead Noble takes a longer view on things. “Frankie Howerd had a massive, long career, he kept doing what he did. He fell out of fashion and he was back in fashion four or five times – that’s the trick to do your thing and make telly and all that stuff come to you, if you chase it you become a slave to it.”
Even after all these years, Noble is as excited by stand-up as ever. “For me every show is a work in progress. I have an idea I will go on and improvise and if something comes out of that I think ‘that’s got more in it’, then the next night I might move the idea on, and the take it around and see where it goes. It just becomes this flowing thing. This fluid constant, I never get to the end, I want to be in the moment all the time.”
“I don’t look at a tour and think ‘oh god, I’ve got to do a massive tour and I have to travel’. I think ‘brilliant, this is what I’ve always wanted to do’. I get to tour the UK and Australia, playing tiny towns in the outback and beautiful old Victorian theatres in the middle of nowhere, spend a couple of months just having a laugh, doing my thing. There’s nothing [that] perks up your energy than having two thousand people go ‘come on then’, when you walk on stage. You hear that buzz off the audience, it lifts you. It’s not like a job.”
You can see Ross Noble at Hammersmith Apollo on 29, 30 November and 1 December.
For other tour dates visit www.rossnoble.co.uk
Ross Noble’s DVD ‘Nonsensory Overload’ is also out nowBilly Connolly, Frankie Howerd, Mark Lamarr, Michael McIntyre, Nonsensory Overload, Ross Noble, Stand-up comedy, Stitches, The Word
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